Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A Christmas Story of Hope

20 December 2011

Recently I interviewed 15 young people for a website administrator’s post.  All except one had an interesting story and were highly employable. My selection committee found it difficult to let go of the three short-listed candidates. I approached a funder asking whether they would sponsor the three to work as a website team and so create jobs for young people to avail their services to upgrade the websites of NGOs. They turned down my request, but then I sat with the three candidates.

Although I had no funding to employ them, I would not let go of them. Each brought a different expertise and talent to website management but one in particular was extremely fascinating. Not very polished in the interview, we were sceptical about his qualifications until we put a computer in front of him. A working class township boy with basic education in web development, he astounded us with his understanding of website construction.

Irresponsibly, I employed these three in the hope of finding funding for them. A week later, Gary called me to his desk to show me how he had upgraded one of the sites of a popular bus company. I asked him why a bus company and his response was “coz I love busses and all my life I travelled by bus.” “All my life I have been fascinated by the history of the company, how they operate, who the drivers, inspectors, and regulators are and I desperately would like to work there. But every time I go to the depot to show them what I can do, they chase me away.”

“Do you know that I know the boss of that company?” said I, and would you like me to meet with him?”  “Whatttt?” responded Gary incredulously. And so, to help him achieve his dream, I contacted the boss and immediately got an appointment. Needless to say, Gary was in heaven.

Sitting around the boardroom with the head honchos of the company Gary plied his wares showing them how he could reconstruct, upgrade and improve the site and work out a better client interface for the company. He was so excited that I needed to rein him in at one point when he said “you see you come to work by car so you do not know what your services are like.” “I know because I am part of a family of commuters who meet every day at the bus stop, we sit at the back of the bus and we are known as the kombuis, where we gossip and trade stories. Even if we are a few minutes late, the driver will wait for us and every year we collect a sum of money as a Christmas box for the driver.”

“Wie sou kon dink dat so a bus-bevokte laaitie van die Cape Flats sulke bree kennis van die company sou he?” the boss and I commented. “Gee hierdie kind ‘n drie maande kontrak en dan  sien ons watter diens hy vir ons kan lewer.”

Had I not employed this young man and had I not tried to create opportunities for him, he would be at home (one of the high unemployment statistics for youth between the ages of 15-24), in an area on the Cape Flats that has no internet connectivity. One of Cape Town’s renowned patrons of the arts, donated money for a laptop for Gary; another funder donated a small amount to employ Gary and the world is his oyster.

Government and the private sector should not underestimate the ability of NGOs to create jobs. They need to support us generously.

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